Road tripping through Bhutan, the land of the thunder dragon

While most parts of South and Southeast Asia feature high on any traveller’s bucket list, with millions exploring its verdant landscapes, towering mountains, beautiful beaches and pristine seas every season, it’s safe to say that the small landlocked kingdom of Bhutan has been relatively under the radar for many, which makes it a hidden gem for those few who choose to explore it.


And of course, the best way to explore this Land of The Thunder Dragon, as it’s called, is by road. Here your first stop should be Paro, one of the more populous cities in Bhutan and one which is dotted with hundreds of quaint monasteries. The first one to visit would be Zurig Dzong, followed by Rinpung Dzong and the Ugyen Pelri Palace. Further up is the Tiger’s Nest Monastery which was built on a series of ledges on the sides of the mountain, just 6 miles north of Paro town.

Those with an adventurous frame of mind can also do the overnight Bumdrak Trek, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the pine-clad valleys. One of the highlights of the journey is a cliff-hanging 17th-century hermitage that offers a resting spot for the trekkers.


However, as the hike is a relatively tough one, with steep ascent and descents, those who have a more leisurely form of journey in mind should instead hire a car to drive from Paro to Punakha, a scenic Himalayan city, via Thimphu and Dochu La. If you have time to spare, Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, too has some great sights to offer such as the viewpoint at the Big Buddha statue. The National Memorial Chorten, the Trashi Chhoe Dzong, weekend market and Fold Heritage Museum are also quite popular with tourists.

The zigzagging mountainous road then leads you to Punakha, crossing the Dochu La (la meaning pass or ridge in Tibetan) at a height of 3,140m. While it may be quite cold on the pass, take a moment to visit the Druk Wangyal Chortens – 108 memorial stupas to commemorate the fallen soldiers of Bhutan.


For its part, Punakha, too, has its fair share of shrines and monasteries. Start with a walk to Khamsun Yuley Namgay Chorten, which has been built in honour of Bhutan’s royal family. The Punakha Dzong, a fortress-monastery built in 1637, is also worth visiting. Apart from the monasteries, visitors to Punakha should also check out the picturesque Ritsha Village, which is known for its lush paddy fields. As you linger among the green fields with mud-and-stone village houses in the distance, let the moment wash over you, because it is amid this jaw-dropping beauty of its countryside that Bhutan is truly at its best.

Text: Suchetana Mukhopadhyay